At the Sevier County landfill, trash tells the ongoing story of the wildfires.
“Eventually, we will take all 2,400 [burned] structures,” Sevier Solid Waste manager Tom Leonard said. “We know how much we’re going to get, but we don’t know when it will be finished.”
Leonard said in the months immediately following the November 2016 firestorm, the landfills were flooded with debris from burnt homes – sometimes 3,000-4,000 tons per day. His facility usually took in about 150-200 tons a day before the fires.
That junk has been collected at a temporary landfill site – all told, about 55,000 tons, said Leonard. That’s on top of the regular trash they received.
“You can’t really tell what part of a cabin or house this is,” he said, gesturing at the pile. “Because it’s gone.”
But recently, Leonard has noted a shift in the debris he’s receiving. In early 2017, it was all burnt debris. Now, the influx has shifted to trash from new construction. This is separated from fire debris, and put into the current permanent dump site.
“We’ve seen that amount of waste go up, while over here it went down,” said Leonard. “I think that’s a good sign because now you’re seeing people building back.”
The temporary site was approved by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to contain wildfire debris with the understanding that Sevier County would expedite a new permanent site.
Leonard said the new permanent site is ready, it’s just a question of when to close the temporary one. He believes that will happen in the next few weeks, but it depends on when the current permanent site hits capacity – which also will happen in the next few weeks.
“In the garbage business, they don’t call you up and tell you it’s coming,” he said. “They just show up with a bunch of trucks.”
He said he’s looking forward to closing the fire site, and looking ahead.
“Oh yeah, it’s a great thing,” said Leonard. “I mean, it’s one less site we need to operate.”
One the temporary fire site closes, Leonard said he will work with state regulators to determine if the junk needs to be moved or can remain at its current location.